Aquarium plants Articles

Floating aquarium plants | Benefits & types

Last Updated July 10, 2020
floating aquarium plants

Floating aquarium plants, often with long decorative roots, are popular in many types of aquarium setups and for good reason! There are many advantages to keeping floating plants in your planted aquarium; although they may not always be ideally kept with plant species that require a lot of light, they are a great addition to almost every tank set up and are quite easy to grow. 

Keep reading for more information about keeping floating aquarium plants, advantages to keeping floating plants, and which plants make a good choice for your own tank.

Are floating plants good for your aquarium?

There are many benefits to having floating plants in your tank. From providing cover to helping maintain water values, we will discuss the benefits that come along with having certain plant species and offer some recommended plants for your own tank!

Cover

Many popular fish species such as bettasdwarf puffersgourami, and clown killifish naturally live in darker water and prefer a densely planted and shaded aquarium with plenty of hiding places. Floating plants provide shade and cover while their long roots help make your fish feel safe, which can help prevent stress and any related illnesses.

It’s not just adult fish that will be thankful for your floating plants; additional plant coverage is also a great place for tiny fry and dwarf shrimp to hide and forage. The most popular floating plant with long roots is Limnobium laevigatum, also known as Amazon frogbit. We will discuss this specific plant species in more depth later on.

Easy to grow & low maintenance

Many of us fishkeepers are plant enthusiasts, but at the same time, sometimes we lack a green thumb, the time or money to set up a high-tech tank, or can’t keep up with a high-maintenance aquascape with more difficult plant species. For us, an easy plant that requires no extra lighting, nutrients, or CO2 is ideal for our tanks.

Luckily, there are plenty of easy floating plants that will do wonderfully in a low-tech tank as well! They grow very quickly and don’t need any extra care except for the occasional removal of a few plants if things get a bit too overgrown.

If you’re interested in low-care floating aquarium plants, you can find a list of the 8 easiest plant species here.

Food

As mentioned earlier, many floating plants grow very quickly. This makes them a great snack for herbivorous fish in addition to their regular diet of pellets and vegetables. You can grow the plants in a separate tank if you’re dealing with very destructive fish like vegetarian African rift lake cichlid species or goldfish that will quickly uproot any plant when they have the chance.

If so, go for only the fastest growing floating plants so you never run out of extra food. Then just regularly toss a handful of plants in the tank to provide some variety in their diet. Duckweed is a great plant option for this and will also be discussed later in this article.

Water values

Most floating plant species are very fast growers, which makes them great at reducing harmful wastes such as nitrate that occurs naturally in your aquarium; nitrate is actually a very important nutrient for the health of your plants and should never be entirely absent from your tank!

The only other way to reduce nitrate is by doing regular water changes, and although this will still definitely be necessary, it’s great to have a “helping hand” via your plants that will also reduce nitrate levels in between those water changes.

Kevin & Gregg's Fishtank 2677

Popular floating plant species

Duckweed (Lemna minor)

You likely just know duckweed (pictured above) as the tiny floating plant that can overgrow an entire pond in a matter of weeks. However, it can also be used in the aquarium; just don’t introduce it unless you’re sure you want it, because it’s not an easy plant to get rid of once it is in your tank!

Duckweed can be found in freshwater ponds and streams with low currents throughout Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America. It has also been documented in Australia and South America but is not believed to be a native plant species. These floating plants can withstand a large range in water temperature as they go dormant with colder temperatures. However, they’ve been known to grow at 42°F (6°C) as well as at 92°F (33°C), so these plants will do well in most tank setups.

In the aquarium hobby, most people use these plants to provide cover for the fish in the topwater layer of their tank. As mentioned earlier, these plants also make a great choice to cultivate if you want to use them to feed your other fish. Duckweed requires no special care at all and will survive in almost every type of tank set up with varying water conditions.

Amazon frogbit (Limnobium laevigatum)

If you’re looking for the classic floating plant with large rosettes and beautiful long roots, this is it. These plants are especially popular in an Amazonian-inspired tank as they are native to Central and South America. However, because of their popularity as aquarium plants, they have been introduced into waterways throughout California.

These floating plants are often confused with water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) which is one of the fastest-growing plant species known today and highly invasive, so make sure you’re getting the right plant! Amazon frogbit can grow to about 20 inches (50 cm) tall, so it is recommended to keep these floating plants in an aquarium that is even taller to ensure some swimming space remains for your fish.

Other than that, this plant is easy to grow, can withstand a huge water temperature range, and will provide lots of coverage for your fish. It does block quite a bit of light, but in dark water biotopes, it is usually preferred by other plants and fish that come from similar habitats.

If you’re having trouble with the roots getting stuck in your filter, try confining your floating plants to one corner of the aquarium. You can do this by attaching the fishing wire to suction cups and putting the plants in this “designated” space; this way, they won’t be able to float towards your filter. You can buy your Amazon frogbit plant online here.

Floating #aquarium plant 101 | Advantages & types!
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Water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes)

Pistia stratiotes is actually the only species in its genius and is an important species of plant for mosquito reproduction. Its exact origin is unknown, but Egyptian hieroglyphs and ancient Greek botanists point to the plant originally occurring in the Nile River in Africa; the current range of water lettuce is also unknown, as it is an extremely hardy and fast-spreading plant. Fossil records and modern studies show that this plant prefers warmer water temperatures and areas where nutrients are bountiful.

These floating plants are so dense in numbers sometimes that they create a large mat that covers the water surface and interferes with natural gas exchange between the air and the water. Many steps are taken to control populations of these plants as overcrowding often leads to fish and other organisms dying. However, because they reproduce so rapidly, many hobbyists introduce these plants into their tank to control and prevent algae blooms; water lettuce tends to take up nutrients from the water before algae has the chance to grow.

Like Amazon frogbit, water lettuce grows long, attractive roots. The rosettes are on the larger side which makes this floating plant less suitable for small aquarium setups; in a larger tank, though, it can be very decorative. Just keep in mind that these plants are very fast growers that block a lot of light and can cause water oxygenation issues if not monitored.

If you don’t want your other plants to be outcompeted for light and nutrients, or have problems with the roots getting into your filter, use the fishing wire method to keep it confined to one corner or one side of the aquarium. Regularly remove yellowing/dead leaves and excess plants to keep your water lettuce healthy and green. You can buy your water lettuce plants online here.

Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum), Java moss (Taxiphyllum barbieri), and Brazilian pennywort (Hydrocotyle leucocephala)

These are all popular aquarium plants than can be planted or left floating. While they are not usually seen as “true” floating plants, they are easy, quick growers, and offer many of the same benefits:

  • Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum): can reach 2 feet (61 cm) and prefers moderate lighting. These plants are found in both calm and moving water, and are usually floating or loosely anchored in muddy substrates.
  • Java moss (Taxiphyllum barbieri): while not exactly like other floating plants, java moss will take root on whatever surface it lands on. This plant prefers low lighting and will grow fast once established in the tank.
  • Brazilian pennywort (Hydrocotyle leucocephalia): can grow either submerged or emerged and can survive a wide range of water conditions and lighting intensities; these plants are some of the most recommended aquarium plants for beginners.

Conclusion

There are many aquarium plants available that could fit perfectly in your tank. Floating plants bring color and movement to the top of the tank while providing coverage for your fish, invertebrates, and any other plant in the lower water column! Most floating plants are very easy to care for and don’t require any specific water parameters or lighting, making them compatible with most fish. The only thing left to do now if choosing which plant species you want to fill your tank!

If you have any more questions about keeping floating plants or about which plant species are suitable for your tank, be sure to leave a comment below. Happy fishkeeping!

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15 Comments

  • Reply Ami November 25, 2019 at 8:34 am

    Hello. What is fishing wire method for plants in aquarium?

    • Reply Mari November 25, 2019 at 1:27 pm

      It’s explained earlier in the article: “You can do this by attaching fishing wire to suction cups and putting the plants in this “designated” space; this way, they won’t be able to float towards your filter.”

      Hope that helps! 🙂

  • Reply Sue August 3, 2017 at 1:16 am

    I have seen pictures of houseplants on top of a glass cylinder with the roots in the water, with a guppy or goldfish inside. Does that really work?

    • Reply Mari August 3, 2017 at 10:59 am

      It depends. Fish are not meant for vases, they need a filtered, cycled aquarium (a very large one for goldfish). So that glass cylinder is out. However, the concept of houseplants that grow with their roots in “fish water” does work. You can make a sort of container at the top of the tank that allows plants to have their feet in the water and stems growing normally – put a nice grow light over it and you can grow your own organic herbs or houseplants! If you have an open top tank you can also just hang plants like Pothos in there, looks very natural 🙂

      This article doesn’t refer to any of that as it’s about floating aquatic plants, but there you go!

  • Reply Julia August 6, 2016 at 11:55 pm

    Hello! I’m interested in getting some floating plants for my aquarium, but also kind of want plants to grow in the substrate as well. Would floating plants (like duckweed) block the light too much for a plant below to thrive?

    • Reply Mari August 9, 2016 at 9:55 am

      Depends on which plants you have growing in the substrate and how many floating plants you have growing. Low-light plants like Amazon sword, Anubias, etc. would probably do just fine with a layer of duckweed blocking out a portion of the light.

  • Reply Jamie June 22, 2016 at 7:14 am

    Hi! I was given a beta and like an idiot I took off the plastic that the plant was grown on that made it float. The bowl is too big to let it hang out of something like I’ve seen in hourglass shaped vases, but I don’t know if it can stay submerged. Looking for a pretty alternative but I want to do right by the plant and my new fish. Any ideas?! Please help! Thank you!!

    • Reply Mari June 26, 2016 at 9:12 pm

      Bettas are not fish meant for bowls (unless they’re 5+ gallons). Please get a proper heated and filtered aquarium as described in this article. Don’t forget to cycle the tank! Upgrading the fish will also solve your plant problem, as you can put the plant in the substrate. 🙂

  • Reply Fox February 24, 2016 at 11:06 pm

    Do platies and cherry barbs like this stuff? I want to vary their diet but i’m unsure which plants they like to eat.

    • Reply Mari February 26, 2016 at 10:31 pm

      I have no personal experience with using floating plants for these fish but they do eat the occasional plant, especially the cherry barbs, so that definitely may work! Even if the floating plants aren’t eaten they’re still a nice addition to your tank in most cases and will be appreciated for the cover they provide 🙂

      • Reply Fox February 26, 2016 at 11:23 pm

        That’s interesting! Thank you! I don’t suppose either of those two eats java fern, swords, or anubias?

        • Reply Mari February 27, 2016 at 12:18 pm

          No, probably not! Those are the least favorite plants to eat for most fish, although yours may still use them: they are known for nibbling algae growth off plant leaves.

  • Reply John June 26, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    This makes me want my own little aquarium! Very cute little plants that add a very nice touch. Love it!

  • Reply Kay April 12, 2015 at 7:47 pm

    Hi,,, I have a 2.5 gallon National Geographic square aquarium. This has a very small filter. I have one betta and a moss ball in this aquarium. I would love to provide my betta with a floating plant for him to play with and in which to hide and sleep. Do you have a suggestion for a floating plant that would not clog up my filter that my betta would love? Thank you.

    • Reply Mari April 12, 2015 at 8:42 pm

      Duckweed is very small and should work. Salvinia natans is quite small as well, although it may not be too happy about any condensation from the lid of the tank or being splashed on by the filter. You could try it though!
      I would definitely recommend getting at least a 5 gallon aquarium for your betta and moss ball soon. 2,5 gallons is very small and unstable, and in a 5 gallon you would be able to fit more floating plants as well 🙂
      Good luck!

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